One of Canada’s most visionary and formidable entrepreneurs died last night in Toronto.
Ted Rogers, founder and chief executive of Rogers Communications Inc., was 75. The company says he was surrounded by family and friends when he died at his home in Toronto of congestive heart failure.
Long before Rogers bought the company I worked for (Maclean Hunter), I had identified Ted as one of Canada’s most successful and inspiring entrepreneurs. Not just in terms of building an empire, which he assuredly did, but in having a coherent vision and a plan – and the guts to stick to it over the years. He took crazy risks, freely admitted his own mistakes, worked every day, and enjoyed every minute.
I first met Ted Rogers when he was just an FM radio and cable-TV pioneer – and I was a summer student managing his radio stations’ booth at the Canadian National Exhibition. It was a weird booth with a mockup of a radio studio, the cabinet with his father’s prized collection of historic radio tubes, and a display selling “Candlelight and Wine” records from easy-listening station CHFI. Ted was very gracious to the students working his booth and we knew we had met someone special.
Ted and I shared a podium at the very first PROFIT 100 award event in Toronto, back in 1990. (We attached our awards program to an existing meeting of the Markham Board of Trade, where Ted had already been signed as guest speaker.) I found him much more engaging as a dinner companion than as the after-dinner speaker, where he mainly promoted his new cellphone services. But I believe that single-minded purposefulness was one of the foundations of his success.
My admiration for Mr. Rogers was dimmed by the fact that he mainly built his empire on monopolies, such as radio stations and cable empires. But when the smoke cleared, he was the last man standing, and you can't argue with that.
Rogers bought PROFIT Magazine (and the rest of Maclean Hunter, mainly for its cable assets) in the mid-1990s, and he became my boss. By this time he was a distant, closeted tycoon, working through intermediaries who possessed little of his grace, charm or vision. This was the period when Ted dedicated himself to turning his debt-riddled company into an investment-grade corporation – and he succeeded, without sacrificing his personal entrepreneurial instincts.
You may question the customer friendliness of the Rogers companies today, or Ted’s interests in the Blue Jays, SkyDome, and NFL football. But there’s no doubt he was a catalyst for change and a whirlwind of energy. Canada could use many more people like him.
The National Post has assembled a great package of stories on Ted’s life and death and unique accomplishments. Click here to enter Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood one more time.